Our topic for this morning is 'Real Love' – which is why we've just read a story from Luke's gospel that shows us an outrageous act of love! It shouldn't surprise us, should it? As people will do the most outrageous things in the name of love. I don't know if you've ever come across these brilliant wedding proposals:
- Like this guy who knew his gal could never say no to an adorable dolphin.
- What about this woman, who didn't know what was coming until she saw their picture at the end of log flume ride.
- How would you feel coming home to find a Jane Austin themed proposal all set up for you to step into like this lady – dress and all?
- Ang then, there's this guy (a video clip).
Folks, I love that.
And I love this story of outrageous love that Luke tells here in chapter 7 of his biography of Jesus life. I love it! I hope you will do too. Because here we discover that Real Love is not an outrageous gesture for someone you find wonderfully loveable, but it comes from discovering that God loves you even when no one else will, even when you are at your least lovely.
It all starts at a meal. And at this meal we meet three central characters:
- There's Jesus,
- There's the host, Simon the Pharisee,
- And there's a "sinful" woman.
Simon and the woman show us two very different approaches to life, which boil down to two very different approaches to Jesus.
Let's have look at them, Luke 7.36-39:
"One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner."
Now Simon and the woman are very different, aren't they?
Simon is an important, self-sufficient man. He's a member of an exclusive religious group called the 'Pharisees'. The name Pharisee means 'one who keeps himself separate'. And that was Simon's philosophy – he separated himself from bad practices, from bad influences and from bad company.
Yet enter stage left the woman. She was a "sinner" and couldn't hide it. She was well known in the town – and we might guess what it was that made her a notorious "sinner", but we're not told as Luke is considerate enough to protect her anonymity.
But do you see? She is not separated from others. She has no moral high-ground to occupy. And so she lives with a certain abandon.
- She doesn't mind gate-crashing a party,
- She doesn't mind using up very expensive perfume,
- And because of love for Jesus, she doesn't mind making a scene.
And what a scene! Can you imagine if you were at the other end of the table, you wouldn't have known what was going on – except that you'd start smelling this beautiful fragrance in the air. You'd call out a compliment to Simon: 'That's nice Simon, is that a new type of Air Wick?'
But Simon doesn't answer – for his jaw has hit the floor. So you follow his gaze and your jaw hits the floor. Here's that woman! You know her, you know what she does – and now here she is acting very inappropriately with her paws and her hair and her lips all over Jesus. Or at least over Jesus' feet! You don't know where to look – in fact, no-one does.
I'm sure Simon's first reaction was to be outraged on behalf of Jesus: 'I'm so sorry Jesus, I don't know how she got in here. I'll sack the butler.'
But pretty soon, Simon is outraged by Jesus. 'Why isn't he sending her away? Why isn't Jesus shaming her, rejecting her?' That's what Simon wants to do. That's all Simon can think to do when he sees a sinner – he can only think to judge her and shame her. Simon would have swatted this woman away like a bug. But Jesus doesn't. Jesus welcomes her. And He receives her love and worship.
On either side of Jesus at this party, there are two very different worlds. Two very different approaches to life. And that's what makes the story so compelling. Because as we read we're being asked: Which side are you on?
Jesus splits this room too this morning: Who are we with? How do we approach life? And how do we approach Jesus?
- Do we basically think of ourselves as one of the good guys – in which case we shun "sinners" and are shocked that Jesus would welcome them?
- Or are we basically like this woman – a sinner, and we don't care who knows it. We just throw ourselves at Jesus' feet and love him?
I don't know if you've ever seen the Channel 4 programme Come Dine With Me – where contestants compete with one another at throwing dinner parties. If you haven't seen it, it's worth watching at least once – But once you've seen one episode, you've seen them all. Because every episode is essentially about two things:
First, they throw together very different kinds of people around a dinner table. They'll sit the straight-laced accountant down next to the wild rock-chick. And mixing people up like that is always fascinating. But the second thing they do in the programme is: they bring the element of judgement into the dining room.
So as you watch, everyone is grading each other on how good the dinner party is. And so while outwardly people laugh and are polite and compliment the chef – in their private moments they tell the camera what they really think.
This duplicity makes for wonderful television and terrible dinner parties. When you bring judgement into the dining room, you spoil everything. The dinner table should be a place of love and acceptance. But when judgement enters in, everything is ruined. And Come Dine With Me gleefully films the wreckage.
If Come Dine With Me were filming this dinner party here in Luke 7 – we can imagine the camera crew taking Simon off to one side and asking him what he thought of the "sinful woman." And Simon would complain in hushed tones – verse 39: "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner."
That's what Simon's thinking. But then in verse 40, we read one of the greatest come-backs in the history of come-backs: Jesus answered his internal dialogue, "Simon, I have something to say... to you." Don't you love that? Simon thinks Jesus should be concerned about the woman. But actually, Jesus is more concerned about Simon!
Isn't that brilliant? In this room, there is a flagrant sinner and an upstanding moralist. The moralist thinks Jesus should be worried about the sinner. Who is Jesus more worried about? The moralist. Why should that be? Well, Jesus gives us a story to explain it from verse 41 – The story goes something like this:
Imagine two people have some money problems and against all advice, they log onto 'GiveMeCashNow.com' for one of those 'payday loans'. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the interest starts adding up. And it's not long before one of them owes £3,000 and the other owes £30,000. Can you put yourself in their shoes? Maybe you are in their shoes right now. Maybe it's all you can think about. There's a three grand debt against your name and you don't know how to pay. Or maybe there's a thirty grand debt against your name and you're at your wits end.
Well imagine you phone up 'GiveMeCashNow.com' to tell them you can't pay. And imagine they say: 'Can't pay, huh? Never mind. Your debt is cancelled. There's nothing to pay, have a nice life.' Can you believe that? Can you believe there are any money-lender's like the one Jesus describes in verse 42? I wish my bank manager was like that! I'm tempted to send my mortgage lender a Christmas Card with these verses on it. This is one of the hardest verses in all the Bible to believe! Jesus says that there is a money lender who simply forgives debts to the tune of £3,000 and £30,000. It's astonishing.
But then you realise, Jesus is the money-lender. You see, we owe Jesus everything. He is our Maker. He gives us life and breath and everything we have. And yet we take his gifts and ignore him the giver – which is hugely offensive and puts us massively over our heads in debt to Him.
But God's response is not to send round the debt collectors. Is that maybe how you think of God? As a loan-shark, who holds your debts against you? Who is out to get what's rightfully his and to hell with you and your wellbeing? Well, he is not like that at all! He's like the most extraordinary money-lender, who forgives us our debts. Look at Jesus – look at his arms wide-open on the cross – there he takes our debt on himself and pays it in full so that we can know we are loved freely and forever.
This sorry little object is called Rabbit. It's a very elderly, dirty, raggedy soft toy. She's had to have surgery to stitch the stuffing back into her tummy at least twice and now she's falling apart yet again. It's broken and utterly worthless. Yet there was a time in the life of one of my children when this meant all the world to that child. If it came to bed time and Rabbit couldn't be found it would have triggered an incident of almost international proportions! I don't want to think about how many hours we have spent searching our house for this little lady. We would stop at nothing till she was safely back in her owners arms. I'm sure some of you have had similar experiences.
You see, sometimes it is not the basic worth of a thing, but the value that is put upon it that matters. And we will never know how valuable we are, until we see the lengths God went to, to get us safely back in his loving arms. We will never know how much we are loved by God until we consider how much it cost God to forgive us. It cost him his son, dying on the cross.
When we do see that, when we receive God's love through Christ, it actually liberates us to love too! For when you understand the size of your debt, and when you understand Jesus and what he's done for you – you're going to love him with all you've got, aren't you? And you might just fall at his feet with tears of gratitude, overwhelmed with emotion like this woman. For this woman knows her debt, feels her debt, weeps over her debt. But more than that, she knows the forgiveness and acceptance of Jesus. And so she overflows with joy and loves her Saviour unashamedly.
But Simon, well, he has almost no comprehension of his debt, does he? Do you see that in Luke 7.44-49?
"Then turning towards the woman he said to Simon, 'Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.' And he said to her, 'Your sins are forgiven.' Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, 'Who is this, who even forgives sins?'"
Simon's and his friends are baffled by this woman. And maybe like them, you don't get how Jesus could forgive sins and how that could ever apply to you. You too see Jesus as merely a prophet or a teacher. You have some respect for him and his teaching. So you'll listen to Jesus, a bit. And you'll hang around Jesus, a bit. But you won't throw yourself at his feet, like this woman. And when you see Christians who really love Jesus and abandon themselves to Jesus, to follow him, you find it a bit distasteful, a bit over-the-top – it disturbs you.
Well if that's you, can I gently suggest – that maybe you don't really know Jesus, and don't really know yourself. You don't know yourself because you don't recognise your debt. You think your financial position with the bank of heaven is ok. And you don't realise that you are in desperate need of a bail-out just like everybody else.
We had a fella called David Hamilton here in church last week telling his story about how he come to faith whilst in prison for terrorist offenses. He said last week that this is a picture of his mother-in-law – but I can confirm that it is definitely him. After a similar interview at a different event, David was once asked: "How can you tell us we need Jesus? We're not terrorists?" He said: "If God's standard was me, then all of you are righteous. All of you pass the grade. You're all better than me. But God's standard is Jesus Christ, and all of us fall short of him."
Do you see the point? We are all in debt. Simon's not like this woman, it's true. But he's nothing like Jesus, is he? He's nothing like Jesus! In fact, this moralist couldn't be more unChristlike if he tried.
Think about how different they are:
- At Jesus' dinner table, sinners are welcome.
- At Simon's dinner table, sinners are only judged.
- At Jesus' dinner table, there is intimacy, joy, tears of gratitude and love.
- At Simon's dinner table there is fear, disdain, self-righteousness and accusation.
What right does Simon have to feel superior? He is so unChristlike. He is so lost in the darkness of his own soul.
Folks, let's take a reality check. Do we know ourselves? Perhaps we're an unChristlike sinner, or perhaps we're an unChristlike moralist – but we're all unChristlike!! Do we know that we are massively in debt and must be bailed out?
And do we also know who Jesus is? He is the friend of sinners. This is the wonderful surprise about Jesus. When we think of Jesus:
- We expect a Teacher, and we get a Saviour.
- We expect a loan-shark and yet he frees us from our debt.
- We expect that He'll just want to burden us, and take from us, and make life hard for us. But instead, he gives himself to us – even to the point of death.
- We expect a throne of judgement, instead H,e takes the judgement on the cross and says to us: 'Welcome. Come in. Come one, Come all, Come sinners and feast with me."
Are you a sinner? Well, this is God's soup kitchen. Here's a meal for beggars. If you know you're a great sinner, but Jesus is an ever greater Saviour – then you're welcome! Come and eat with Jesus. He says verse 50 to you: "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
Or are you more like Simon? If you've been a Christian for a while, what's your biggest temptation? You probably think that your biggest temptation is that you might become more like this sinful woman – or that you might get tempted by this sinful woman. But you know what your biggest temptation is? You know what mine is? Being a Pharisee – and that is by far, by far the more dangerous, the more deceitful and more damnable error. Simon thought too well of himself. He thought too badly of people different to him. And he was lukewarm about Jesus. It sounds so ordinary and yet it is spiritual death.
- No real love for Christ.
- No real love for the Saviour of Sinners, for our only hope of freedom from judgement in a world of condemnation, for the Lord of Life who pours himself out to death for us.
- No love for Jesus – that's the danger.
And so this morning, if you feel a sluggish coldness towards Jesus – let his broken body, break your heart. Let his love for you revive you! Come again and receive from him forgiveness. He had to die, so great was your sin. But he wanted to die, so much does he love you. And boy does he love you! Do you see why I said that I love this story? For as we pull up a seat at the table of the King, we find that we are more wicked than ever thought, and yet more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.